Are robots taking over eCommerce?

They were hard to miss over the last few weeks — articles looking back at last year and those looking forward to what’s to come. Together the online community summarized the previous twelve months and predicted what 2018 has in store.

One of the industries in which these trend-predicting articles are popular is online retail. Sales in eCommerce reach new highs each month, online stores keep growing, and e-retail seems to be the perfect place to experiment with technological innovation. In eCommerce, a frequently mentioned trend for the coming year is the chatbot.

Chatbot types

Despite being a hot topic for a while now, chatbots are still a bit of a mystery. A quick Google search is a clear indication of this. There is no precise definition of what a chatbot is and only unclear information on the types of chatbots available. There are, however, many articles that classify chatbots into all sorts of categories depending on the writer’s preference. One of the most clear-cut distinctions between chatbots available is that of the generalized chatbot versus the specialized chatbot.

The generalized chatbot is the kind of bot that many people regularly use. For example, a voice assistant like Siri or Alexa. They can answer all sorts of questions and can help you when you want to listen to music, send a message, check the weather and more. Generalized chatbots are a convenient add-on to your life in general. Hence the name. They were not created to do one task but can help with a little bit of everything.

The specialized bot, on the other hand, was explicitly designed to do one thing. And do that thing well. These can be bots that help you order your food online, let you book a flight with just a short exchange or enable you to buy clothes that fit your style. This type of chatbot is frequently connected to a specific company and is created to smooth out a dedicated process.

Independent eCommerce platforms would most likely choose a specialized bot. It can help you decide on the size you need to order, give you information on returns or assist you in your shopping. Of course, it would be fun to ask the chatbot on an eCommerce website about the weather, but it is far from useful for most customers.

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Chat software used

So, will the predictions made for this year come true? Will chatbots take over the eCommerce industry? It is possible — but our data suggest that it might take a bit longer. We found that only 3 percent of the online stores in our database use live chat software to connect with their customers. The most popular types of software are Zopim (2 percent), Olark (0.3 percent) and Provide Support (0.1 percent).

A more in-depth look at the use of these types of software shows that they are most popular in the United States — just over 25 percent of all live chat software installs is found here. Other countries that seem to like the digital assistants are the Netherlands (8 percent) and the United Kingdom (7 percent).

Social media bots

It is important to mention that we only index the use of live chat software on the website of the online store itself. This is not the only place where chatbots are used — another popular destination for customers who want to connect with a company is social media. It is possible for a business to integrate a chatbot in platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We do not have the number for the use of chatbots on these platforms, but we do know that only 40 percent of online store owners have a social media account. If we assume that half of these accounts use a chatbot to communicate with their customers, it still only brings the total use of chatbots to 23 percent of all online stores.

Predictions are a tricky thing — at we do not have a crystal ball to help us out. What we do know, however, is that right now the data doesn’t support the idea that chatbots are the next big thing. Their integration just isn’t good enough yet. It will be interesting to see what the future has in store, though!

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